Wednesday, January 8, 2020

#42 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #10)


Have you ever noticed that there are many, very precise descriptions of the character/temperament of the plethora of dog breeds? Of course, the dogs in these depictions neither read nor complain about how they are characterized. Although there are multiple traits on which these observations are based, the primary one of “aggression v. friendliness/loyalty/playfulness/trainability abounds.

Having originated in the wolf DNA, after ten thousand years and scores of breeding experiments, there are now thousands of “human-pet-friendly” breeds available to those seeking a furry companion. Genetic engineering a new phenomenon in human applications, has been a feature of animal breeding for many years.

In a New York Times article by Perri Klass M.D. April 8, 2019, we read:
Behaviour problems in children, especially aggression and defiance, don’t get a great deal of sympathy, said Dave Anderson, a psychologist who is senior director of national programs at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. ‘For a child to get better requires just as much empathy and scaffolding as for a child who might be depressed, but behavioural issues inspire nowhere near as much empathy.
There is a persistent belief that these behaviors reflect poor parenting, he said, but in fact, there is often a strong biological component to behaviour issues, and the responses which come naturally to most parents faced with these behaviours may not have the desired results.

‘If you’re going to have persistent behaviour problems involving aggression and defiance, it’s already elevated at 2,’ said Michael F., Lorber, a senior research scientist with the Family Translational Research Group at New York University…
‘Our instincts as human beings are often wrong,’ Dr. Anderson said. ‘We tend to be negative behaviour detectors.’ When two siblings are playing quietly together, he said, ‘most parents are thinking, don’t jinx it, or let met do something on my to-do list.’ But when there is conflict, parents respond with anger and threats and punishment.
Those ways of responding to the negative behaviors, he said, are unlikely to work—with small children, with adolescents or adults. ‘We don’t tell partners to yell at partners as part of couples therapy; we don’t tell bosses to yell at employees for better productivity.’

Sensitive, mature, balanced, and effective parenting, without much more than the family of origin model of one’s own parents/guardians, is one of the more dysfunctional and/or omitted natural resources in many western families.

In his ground-breaking work, A Fine Young Man, Michael Gurian writes these words:
Many times, boys will show their fragility not through increased passivity but through increased bravado. When compared to adolescent girls, adolescent boys experiencing an average drop in self-esteem will pretend more self-confidence, will admit less weakness, will posture more, will pursue more overt attention, and will appear more aggressive. (Michael Gurian, A Fine Young Man, Tarcher/Putnam, Penguin, New York, 1999, p. 21-22)

Gurian also details the male emotional system a little later, in language any and all parents can both understand and reflect upon:

The development of the male emotional system follows the path of the development of male testosterone and brain development, and adaptations in male sexual biology. Over a period of millenia, human beings have been adapting all systems, including emotional systems, to changing conditions.

We have been adapting from hunting/gathering groups, when our main enemies were creatures of the savannah and when males didn’t even know who their offspring were, to agricultural extended families, when monogamy became normative and family relationships were considered of paramount importance, to industrial child-raising units, called families, but wherein only one caregiver—generally the mom—concentrates on children.
Our bodies and brains have adapted so that they can take in more stimulation and use creative and inventive functions far more readily. Our testosterone levels, body sized and genital size all have increased because of both increased population demands and increased aggression demands. For instance, as the need to fight wars developed over the last ten thousand years, our males needed to increase their testosterone levels in order to help humans survive. Our present testosterone levels are continually increasing as the population increases because high populations creates more competition for resources.

Over the last few thousand years, our sexual biology has adapted to include romance, a kind of human intercourse that was not needed tens of thousands of years ago when a male just mated with an estrous female and moved on. Now we try to mate for life with the help of romance strategies.

All these human adaptations comprise your adolescent boy’s history. Simultaneously, his brain and biology still resemble what his male ancestors were millenia ago. In some ways, our brains have changed; in other ways, our sexual biology, brain activity, and hormonal flow are still what they were in hunter/gatherer times. This is not surprising, since we have lived 98 percent of our human history as hunters/gatherers. (Gurian, Op. Cit. p. 31-32)

Anticipating what has become a rallying cry for some, Gurian notes sardonically, “Yeah, but as a gender males brought this on themselves! They overdominated females. They spent immense amounts of energy investing in testosterone activities like war and sport. They limited male brain use form emotional development so let them suffer a little.”

In response to this socially-accepted and even dominant view Gurian offers this:
The problem with this ideology is the biological truth that males have faced: They were and are propelled by biology, and especially the circumstance of exponentially increasing population, toward dominance and mechanism—a world with billions of people in it competing for resources is one that requires dominance strategies by which to manage huge groups of people without much attention to emotional detail. The males took on and still take on most of the dangerous work, and have done so with cultural scaffoldings in place that make this dangerous work possible. Now many of those scaffoldings have collapsed, and the confusion falls on our adolescent males.

…We’ve stripped away most of what little opportunity did exist for emotional development among males:

·        Our males used to have much more spiritual development, and therefor much more emotional contact with themselves and others through the Oue males use to have time in their work structures to form intimate relationships with other men and in which to mentor the young. They have little time for that now.

·        Our males used to have clear guidelines concerning how to nurture their families and mates, and how to find some emotional sustenance through marital stability. They have far less of that stability and those guidelines now.

·        Our males used to seek a depth of relationship with nature, in which they learned not only to hunt the fruits of nature but to transform, like alchemists, the relationships between man and nature into emotional and physical nurturance for whom communities. They have little time for this direct contact with nature’s divinity now.

·        Our males used to have extended families in which to develop their muted emotional beings. They have little extension of family now. In fact, many American (and we might add Canadian and western) men report having no other people except their wives with whom to discover life’s most important matters. If a divorce occurs, a man’s access to mirrors for his own emotional development diminishes dramatically. (Gurian, op. cit, p 37-38)

Male dominance, aggression, and even violence are not deployed only in times of military conflict. Just last night, for example, my wife and I watched a documentary entitled, Toxic Beauty, detailing the chemical development of “beauty products” like baby powder, (specifically by Johnson and Johnson) followed by one hundred years of marketing, while Johnson and Johnson knew fully that the product actually killed many women and endangered the lives of millions of others. Filled with asbestos, metal particles, and a list of other minerals, the product has birthed class-action law suits, complete with the kind of denials that once encased the arguments of the tobacco companies about the carcinogenic potential of their cigarettes. It was and is men who occupy the chief executive and upper management positions of companies like Johnson and Johnson, whose denials echo the current spate of denials about global warming and climate change from Republican lawmakers, especially Senators, and of course the current president, whose capacity for denial, avoidance, dissembling and outright demolition of empirically verified information/facts is, in a word, epic.
Dominance of women, by men, especially with the kind of impunity extended to Brett Cavanagh, whose life-long tenure on the Supreme Court cannot be challenged, outrages both women and men. He represents, like his notorious mentor, the president, the worst example of masculinity. And he has the cohort of conspirators, the Republican cadre of Senators who voted to confirm his appointment.

The masculine history of vacillating between bravado and withdrawal (socially, politically and sexually) is readily recounted in the stories of heroic incidents in battle, as well as in the counterpoint of denials by powerful men seeking to avoid the kind of transparency, accountability and authenticity they and we all trumpet as minimal benchmarks for leadership. 

Holding a mirror to personal experience...

I watched first my father who struggled to face his spouse’s wrath, a force of nature needing both heeding and confronting, at different times and in different circumstances. His “appeasement” of her dominance, acknowledged only in the latter stage of his eighth decade, enabled her abuse of both my sister and me. And while anger and a feeling of betrayal were my early emotional responses to our family history, especially his role, I have come to perceive a pattern in which his father too was submerged under the intense wrath and judgement of his spouse, my grandmother, for whom the world was an extension of her kindergarten class. Cold and harsh practicality and severe judgement of their spouses, as incarnated by driven, ambitious and determined women, like that harsh parenting of aggression in young children, is, to put it bluntly, counter-productive. It only serves to exacerbate the feelings of inadequacy in the husband. Joining in an addictive pattern with his spouse, a life-long alcohol-dependent wife, my uncle simply disappeared into the tiny space behind the counter of his ‘imports’ retail outlet.

And then, stories of a stern disciplinarian principal in Central Public School, Mr. Miller, seemed to this young boy the evidence that set the tone of the school where we all generally complied with directions. In senior elementary, it was the stature and the warmth of two male teachers, Bert Woodhouse, and Ken Johnson, a WWII veteran, whose combined auras flowed along the halls and into the classrooms enveloping each of us students, and one guesses, the teaching staff as well. Respect, good humour, warmth, and essential dignity were the hallmarks of these three years.

In high school, a gentle soul, John Harper, found himself in front of grade nine History and English classes where I sat. His self-effacing, reflective and extremely modest demeanour continue to have a warm corner in my memory bank. History, like fate, often has a way of acknowledging the silences of deep respect that needs no applause. Some fifty years later, I had the honour of visiting John in hospital, as he endured terminal cancer. We chatter about basketball; he asked if I would comb his hair; I complied with as much tenderness as I could. Word of his death the next morning reached me only a few hours after this visit.

There were other men, like the highly charismatic, extremely eloquent and intensely evangelistic clergy from Northern Ireland whose presence overflowed the building, the property surrounding the building and stretched throughout the whole town. Denouncing Roman Catholics who are “going to hell” from the pulpit, and denouncing movies, dancing, make-up and meal preparation on Sunday, from the pulpit were enough to drive this then sixteen-year-old permanently from attending the church, in spite of my father’s long-standing position on the church Session. There was also an Ontario Provincial officer, (Sargeant?) Claire Edgar, who investigated a vehicle accident in which I was the driver of a half-ton truck that rolled and struck the front fender of an oncoming taxi. His sincere, detailed investigation, his calm and respectful manner, linked to his decision not to charge conti
nue to comfort, support and sustain me as a life-long vehicle operator for these six decades.
(Dominion Store managers, Beer Store managers, university faculty, mentors and finally ecclesial supervisors to follow.)

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